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Book Review – Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (Matthew Barrett)

Matthew Barrett. Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. xxix+388 pp. $24.99.

monMonergistic versus synergistic regeneration is perhaps the key distinction between Calvinist and Arminian soteriology. Not only that, but the glory of God is very much at stake in this debate – it’s not just theoretical and academic. While monergistic regeneration (alternatively known as “effectual calling” or “irresistible grace”) is, in the words of B. B. Warfield, “the hinge of Calvinistic soteriology,” this doctrine seems to be significantly in the shadows of predestination/election in contemporary literature. I was therefore very eager to read Matthew Barrett’s book Salvation by Grace, an entire lengthy book dedicated to monergism. This book is an abridged version of Barrett’s doctoral dissertation completed at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Thomas Schreiner. The full dissertation is sold by P&R as an ebook entitled Reclaiming Mongergism: The Case for Sovereign Grace in Effectual Calling and Regeneration.

Overview

The thesis of this project will argue that the biblical view is that God’s saving grace is monergistic – meaning that God acts alone to effectually call and monergistically regenerate the depraved sinner from death to new life – and therefore effectual calling and regeneration causally precede conversion in the ordo salutis, thereby ensuring that all of the glory in salvation belongs to God not man. Stated negatively, God’s grace is not synergistic – meaning that God cooperates with man, giving man the final, determining power to either accept or resist God’s grace – which would result in an ordo salutis where regeneration is causally conditioned upon man’s free will in conversion and, in the Calvinist’s opinion, would rob God of all the glory in salvation.

(xxvi)

Chapter 1 surveys the history of the monergism/synergism debate, addressing Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Semi-Augustinianism, Arminius and the Remonstrants, as well as providing a more in-depth look at how monergism was espoused by Augustine, Calvin, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Confession. This chapter demonstrates that the Reformed tradition has consistently affirmed and defended monergism. In Chapter 2, Barrett addresses total depravity and its relation to original sin, for these must be understood in order to comprehend effectual calling. He first notes some common misunderstandings and caricatures in order to highlight what total depravity is not, then shows how the doctrine is attested in the Old and New Testaments, and finally relates it to the bondage of the will, drawing, unsurprisingly, on the work of Jonathan Edwards.

Chapter 3 provides a robust look at the scriptural affirmation of effectual calling. This chapter also touches on a resistible, general call and demonstrates that contra hyper-Calvinists, Calvinists have always taught a general, well-meant offer in the general call. Some typical objections to a genuine offer are addressed. Finally, having shown that effectual calling is a biblical doctrine, Barrett shows how this entails the doctrine of unconditional election as well. In chapter 4 Barrett provides an equally robust overview of scriptural affirmation of monergistic regeneration, interacting at length with the exegesis of Arminian New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall.

In chapter 5 Barrett provides an accurate summary of Arminianism. He addresses libertarian free will and the biblical passages used by Arminians to support it, interacts with Thomas Summers (one of the few Arminians who engages with biblical passages in which man cooperates with grace, whereas most appeal to texts demonstrating resistance of grace), demonstrates how Arminians believe synergism works itself out in practice, and helpfully notes the varying strands of Arminian synergism (strong, semi-strong, and soft synergism). Having provided an accurate picture of Arminianism so as to avoid caricatures and straw man arguments, Barrett moves on to critique Arminian synergism in chapter 6. Here Barrett argues that the two doctrines on which Arminianism soteriology hangs – libertarian freedom and prevenient grace – are unbiblical and rob God of His glory. Barrett refutes both the Arminianism that denies total depravity as well as the Arminianism that argues that prevenient grace negates total depravity.

Finally, chapter 7 looks at recent modifications that purport to be Calvinistic but are in fact outside the stream of Reformed soteriology. Barrett interacts at length with the middle way popularized by Milliard Erickson, Gordon Lewis, and Bruce Demarest, “which argues that while effectual calling precedes conversion (i.e. Calvinism), regeneration does not (i.e. Arminianism). Therefore, the proposed ordo salutis is: effectual calling, conversion, and then regeneration” (p 283, emphases orig). However, according to Scripture and Reformed soteriology, regeneration is logically and causally prior to conversion. Lastly, Barrett interacts with the view of Kenneth Keathley, who claims he can affirm monergism while arguing for a few that is really Arminian.

Conclusion
Barrett’s work on monergism should be read by all who cherish Reformed soteriology. Salvation by Grace provides a comprehensive overview of the synergism-monergism debates throughout history, an accurate summary of Arminianism, and a robust biblical, theological refutation of (Arminian) synergism and defense of (Calvinistic) monergism. As a general book on monergism, this is a stellar work and may become the go-to one volume resource on the topic.

However, in judging this book according the standards of a doctoral dissertation, I do have a few critiques that probably would not matter to most people reading this book. One is that this work does not blaze any new trails or propose any new theses, but at times feels more like a gigantic book report. Especially noticeable are the frequent block quotes of the works of Bruce Ware and Thomas Schreiner. Now, I love Ware and Schreiner and am fully convinced of mongergism so I did not mind this at all. But to a reader less sympathetic of the doctrine, it may seem like bias and overuse of and overreliance on the work of Barrett’s supervisors.

One other important point, which is not a criticism of this book, is that Salvation by Grace is an abridgement of Barrett’s dissertation. The full version is only available in ebook format and is entitled Reclaiming Mongergism: The Case for Sovereign Grace in Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Footnotes frequently reference the ebook, and it does seem like the abridgement was not insubstantial. So my recommendation is that more advanced readers, those who have studied monergism, and/or those drawn to this work because it’s a dissertation get the full dissertation ebook in order to get the full benefit of Barrett’s work on this topic.

Whether the abridged Salvation by Grace or the full Reclaiming Monergism, Barrett’s work on monergism needs to be on the shelf or e-shelf of all who love Reformed soteriology. Whether your mind is stretched and you learn a ton of new information or not, you will be convinced even more of the strong biblical case for this doctrine and become even more passionate about the glory that can only be fully ascribed to God in monergistic regeneration.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon
Reclaiming Monergism (the full dissertation)

Many thanks to my friends at P&R for the review copy!

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2 Comments

  1. Book Log: October 2014 |
  2. Book Review – Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views (Andrew David Naselli & Mark A. Snoeberger ed.) |

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